Mouth suddenly dry, Ahron tried to swallow, but found he couldn’t. He peeled his tongue off the roof of his mouth and dragged it across his bottom lip. Reaching out, he put a tentative hand on her shoulder. “Please don’t cry, milady.”
|Bradley James as King Arthur from BBC TV show Merlin|
“I’m not crying.” She huffed, blinking rapidly.
“That is to say it’s fine if you are.”
“Good.” He rose, walking to the window. What was he doing, harboring an exiled courtesan in his private chambers? Were anyone to call on him, he’d share Merewyn’s fate, assuming he’d be allowed to keep his head attached to his neck. Risking exile and death to help a woman he barely knew. When she’d lived at court she’d barely spoken two words to him.
Still, all the battles he’d fought, the men he’d slain, all the criminals he’d personally delivered to the executioner, he never felt so guilty as the day he’d put her and her children out. No matter how many times he told himself that it was his duty to do as his queen commanded, he knew he’d done wrong.
“Will you be safe with your friend until Owain comes of age?” he asked.
“From what you’ve told me, I’ll never be safe in my own country again.”
Placing a hand to over hers, he murmured, “You’re safe here. With me.”
He noticed her skin damp and hot. “Are you unwell, milady?”
She untied her cloak and let it fall around her porcelain shoulders. Though he knew it was wrong to do so, he peeked at the cleavage revealed by the slit in her coarse peasant shirt. Again desire stirred between his legs. An automatic response. A simple reflex, nothing more, he told himself.
“I’m fine.” She fanned herself. “It’s a little warm in here.”
He placed his hand against the cool stone wall. It was not warm in the slightest in his apartments.
“What will you do?” he asked. In response, she rolled her eyes back in her head and slumped to the floor.
“Milady?” He rushed to her side. Reaching beneath her shirt, he freed her from her corset while checking her pulse and breathing. Her skin burned. A fiery rash peppered her torso. Boatman’s Fever. She must’ve picked it up crossing the swamps of Koburgh. His own bout with the disease flashed through his mind. It’d consisted of miserable weeks in bed, sweating and coughing up blood. Judging from the scabs on the rash, she’d been sick for a week or more. What was she doing up and about when she was seriously ill?
Tucked into the waistband of her skirt, he found a vial. Uncorking it, he took a sniff. The scent of rotten eggs invaded his nostrils. A sulfur preparation. No wonder she’d seemed fine less than half an hour ago. Though it was touted as a cure by charlatans, it only masked the symptoms. It cured nothing.
She needed rest. She needed herbal tisane to control the fever and enriched broth to build up her strength, a milk and bread poultice for the rash. None of which he could provide her with here. Certainly not here.
Swearing under his breath, he cursed himself for his impulsive rescue. What had he been thinking? And now, he harbored a fugitive in his private chambers. A passed out and gravely ill fugitive.
A cold sweat dotted his brow as he left his quarters and hurried to the marketplace. Calling over a boy,
Ahron fished a gold Behrin from his coin purse.
“Young man, can you make it to Halsburgh Castle before nightfall?” Ahron asked.
“Yes, Lord High Constable.”
“Good, fetch my maid. Tell her to give you supper and then bring you back in the carriage. Tell her to bring supplies to treat Boatman’s Fever.”
The boy clapped three times ostensibly to ward of evil spirits.
Ahron gave him the coin and a small folded piece of paper. “Don’t lose my official seal or Triska won’t believe I sent you. I’ll give you another Behrin upon your swift return. There’s no time to waste. And speak to no one about this errand.”
“Yes, sire.” The boy tucked his payment and the seal into his leather belt and began to run in the direction of the road to Halsburgh.